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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

Lambda Legal and ARCW File Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of HIV Positive Woman Denied Surgery by Healthcare Provider

(Milwaukee, WI, February 12, 2009) — Lambda Legal and the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) filed a federal lawsuit today in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of Melody Rose, a 35-year-old Wisconsin woman who was denied surgery to remove her gallbladder because she has HIV.

“Discrimination in healthcare remains a major problem for people living with HIV,” said Peter Kimball, Director of the Legal Services Program at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). “In violation of both federal and Wisconsin law, Dr. Steven Cahee refused to provide needed medical treatment to our client, Melody Rose.” 

Lambda Legal and ARCW represent Melody Rose who experienced health problems with her gallbladder while incarcerated at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac. Ultimately, her physician referred her to Dr. Steven Cahee at the Fond du Lac Regional Hospital to have her gall bladder removed.

However, Dr. Cahee refused to perform the surgery after learning Ms. Rose is HIV-positive. Some time thereafter, a surgeon at a different medical facility removed Ms. Rose’s gallbladder in a laprascopic procedure, which is considered routine surgery.

“Dr. Cahee’s actions fly in the face of ethical behavior for a medical professional,” said Scott Schoettes, Staff Attorney with Lambda Legal’s HIV Project. “Long ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established that using universal precautions — which are required in all sorts of medical situations, including surgeries — makes it extremely unlikely for the virus to be transmitted in this setting.” 

The complaint filed today alleges that the defendants –- Steven M. Cahee, M.D., Agnesian HealthCare, Inc., and Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, S.C., violated four different state and federal laws. The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its state law counterpart, which both prohibit disability discrimination by places of public accommodation (including healthcare providers); the Rehabilitation Act, which  requires recipients of federal financial assistance not to discriminate against people with disabilities; and a Wisconsin law addressing HIV discrimination specifically, which forbids healthcare providers from denying services to people (or humiliating and degrading them) based solely on their HIV status.

The case is Rose v. Cahee, et al.

Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Staff Attorney, is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by co-counsel Peter Kimball, of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Lambda Legal: Erin Baer Cell: 646-752-3251; Email:

ARCW: Bill Keeton 414-225-1572; Cell: 414-313-2036                           

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

ARCW provides HIV medical, dental and mental health care as well as legal services, housing assistance, and food pantries to people with HIV throughout Wisconsin.